Business opportunities are fleeting – prepare to capitalize on them before your competition does.

One of the keys to successful growth is learning to spot opportunities – and leveraging them. While working with clients of all shapes and sizes, I find that opportunities are all around us; however, we frequently miss them. Developing an eye for spotting opportunities can take a bit of practice.

Following a few proven methods can give you better odds for success: 1) Look for trends. 2) Watch metrics. 3) Be aware of your industry and surroundings.

#1) Start by watching for trends. I find that a significant portion of my success comes from identifying trends others miss. Keep your eyes open for deviations from the norm. For example, if your customer typically calls for overnight shipments at a certain time of the month because their demand changes, ask your customer about it. They might not have realized that it seems to happen on the 3rd week of the month every time. They might be able to resolve the issue once they know about the timing. Undoubtedly, your customer would value that information! Or, perhaps they cannot resolve the issue but they could place their order sooner to minimize shipping charges. Either way, you will be valued.

Watch out especially for trends with your customers and suppliers. If you see a trend with a customer, ask about it. It might result in an opportunity. Customers want to do business with those who pay attention and demonstrate that they value the relationship. For example, I worked with a client that noticed a blip in demand. He mentioned it to his customer, and his customer was really appreciative because he forgot to place orders. Goodwill can go a long way!

#2) Watch metrics. Start by identifying your key metrics. Which tell you whether you are moving in the right direction? Which are indicative of problems or opportunities? Don’t become overwhelmed with “too many” metrics. Select only those which impact your strategy and profit drivers. Measure them daily, weekly, and monthly. For example, if cash flow is critical to your growing business, measuring inventory levels would likely be an important metric. If you saw inventory increasing on a particular product line, you could follow up on the cause immediately. If you weren’t tracking metrics by product line, it could take weeks, if not months, for you to notice – too late to address successfully.

#3) Be aware of your industry and surroundings. What is happening in your industry? Who is leading the pack? What new products have they released? Are you getting alerts for your main competitors and for industry data? In today’s internet connected world, it is easier than ever to stay informed. Set up data feeds from relevant news sources. Attend industry conferences. Get to know industry experts. Read trade publications and join relevant Linked In groups. It is also worthwhile to keep up on the latest economic and relevant world politics. For example, when I was in the absorbent products industry, my Director of Purchasing kept track of an amazing amount of information about oil and gas prices and factors and events affecting them because he knew that oil and gas prices directly affected our raw material costs. Because he was informed, he kept prices low while maintaining strong supplier relationships, and he was able to better leverage opportunities as they arose.

#4) ACT: Lastly, it does no good whatsoever to solely identify opportunities. You must be willing to ACT. Once you identify a valid opportunity, put together a plan of action and implement. It is easy to let them pass you by. Not all opportunities last long, and so you must be prepared to make decisions. The reason you are tracking information on a frequent basis is so that you do not need to make decisions in a vacuum. Thus, do not delay when the opportunity stares you in the face.

I’ve seen countless clients miss vast opportunities because the people who saw them weren’t empowered or the leaders didn’t see them. Set yourself up for success by ensuring you’ll be able to see opportunities, and encourage your team to remain vigilant in keeping an eye out as well.